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Swedish Government Agency Gifts PEN International $3.7M

Peeter Kaaman, Program Specialist at Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) has awarded PEN International a grant of 31m SEK–$3.7m, as of today’s exchange rate–in support of the writers’ group’s mission to advance freedom of expression. The money will be disbursed over four years to help foster “strong, diverse, and sustainable PEN Centres”.

The gift comes a little over four months after the group’s American Center opted to honor satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo with the 2015 Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. The honor was met with resistance as author Teju Cole led five other writers in condemning the type of expression Charlie Hebdo routinely produced including cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad that offended some Muslims and non-Muslims and was said to have provoked terrorists to firebomb the newspaper’s offices in January of this year, killing 12 journalists and staffers in the process. Junot Diaz was among a larger group of writers that joined Cole in “disassociat[ing themselves] from PEN America’s decision”.

The Swedish government agency whose stated focus is to “reduce poverty in the world” has been supporting PEN International’s programs since 2004. Most recently, the two organizations launched a joint initiative to develop civil society and capacity building activities in several countries including Cambodia, Central Asia, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi, Nepal, Philippines, Sierra Leone, and Zambia.

Peeter Kaaman, a Program Specialist at SIDA, explained in a statement, “SIDA considers PEN International a strategic partner in our global efforts to protect and promote freedom of expression. With its long history and broad coverage through its national Centres, PEN International is well positioned to influence policy and legislation for the benefit of writers at risk and for freedom of expression in general at both global and national level.”

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